DEP Plans New Office In Scranton To Improve Marcellus Shale Drilling Oversight
Department of Environmental Protection this week announced plans to open a new Oil and Gas Management office in Scranton, Lackawanna County, to improve the agency’s ability to oversee and respond to issues stemming from increased natural gas drilling throughout the region.
“Right now, our oil and gas staff spends a great deal of time traveling to Marcellus Shale drilling sites all across the northern tier,” said DEP Secretary John Hanger. “By establishing a new office, as well as positioning new oil and gas staff in the region, we’ll spend less time on the road and more time on the ground performing inspections and monitoring activities at drilling sites.”
DEP said the exact location of the office has not yet been determined, but will be centrally located to provide the department with easier access to the hundreds of natural gas wells that are expected to be drilled in the region.
Comments by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) at a Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing last week put the spotlight on the need for additional staff resources in the Northeast to deal with Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling issues.
Following the hearing, Gov. Rendell ordered DEP to hire 68 permitting and inspection staff in response to expectations that the industry will apply for 5,200 new Marcellus Shale drilling permits in 2010—nearly three times the number of permits issued during 2009.
"Our communities need the economic boost that gas drilling will provide, but we simply cannot afford to have state government shortchange oversight," said Sen. Baker. "The Rendell Administration deserves credit for moving quickly and prudently to fill what would have been a serious gap in their oversight capabilities. If the indications are correct, and they are putting ten individuals in the new office, that is a significant presence, at least at the start, and accessibility and turnaround time will be much improved.
"Given the increase in drilling activity expected to take place in the region, and the potential environmental consequences of mistakes, long-distance oversight was not an acceptable answer. It would not be sufficient for community concerns, and it would not rise to the level of responsibility state government must demonstrate.
"The problems in the early going, such as well leaks, underscore the importance of stepped-up oversight. When things go wrong, as they surely will, sometime somewhere, a timely response can prevent a problem from turning into a nightmare. And a commitment to inspection and monitoring can prevent problems from occurring.
"Given the shortfalls in state programs due to still slumping revenues, it was not easy to round up funding to pay for additional personnel and a new office. However, the economic and environmental stakes involved in tapping the Marcellus Shale clearly warrant this move."
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